March of the Thought Leaders …


The unraveling process underway around the world right now is accompanied by a flood of easy answers and easier solutions. Some are ludicrous: Enter ‘Mr. Spend’”

 

 

“The economics is really easy,” says Mr. Spend. So is everything else: head-slapping ‘why didn’t I think of that’ easy. Mr. Spend’s words flow like water along with recycled ideas from his computer keyboard: easy because spending itself is a form of genius.

Why haven’t we thought of these incredible spending solutions before? Of course they have been: this country is the United States of Spend: we have been running incredible exponentially expanding loan ‘balances’ since 1492, when Chris Colon borrowed from Italian moneylenders and the King of Spain in order to discover the place!

In 1938 the Germans decided Czechoslovakia would be a nice addition to the decor and the British and French governments reluctantly agreed: since then the US private- and public sectors have spent (borrowed) over $55 trillion! Additional amounts on the order of hundreds of trillions have been pledged. Most of this $55 trillion has been spent (borrowed) during the past thirty years, an increasing part of it to service and retire older debts. Don’t be fooled: the US was born out of British debt and the industrial revolution. Ours is a government for, by and about debt: without it and the associated spending there would be no United States of Anything … only deer, coyotes and ‘poor people’.

Because industrial modernity cannot pay for itself it is necessary to borrow and borrow some more: the gigantic debts are themselves evidence to modernity’s productive incapacity. We make junk, it is worthless junk, it cannot pay for itself. We are living the end of the age of spend, the end of the age of living beyond our means, the end of easy ideas (wishful thinking) cloaked in torrents of easy words (lies).

The avatars of easy are the current generation’s thought leaders. This is a revolutionary term that suggests thought followers and intellectual captivity. The axle around which the entire enterprise revolves is how little we will have to pay for the changes we are being forced to make by circumstances we have created for ourselves.

 

“If we were to spend more money at the government level and … rehire the schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers who have been laid off in the last several years because of cutbacks at the state and local level, we would be a long way back towards full employment. …,”

 

Mr. Spend’s ipso-facto moment: when workers are hired back there is indeed less unemployment. What next? Mr. Spend is a highly-regarded public thought leader with an impressive curriculum vitae and prominence within the establishment. Books and articles spew forth from Mr. Spend like affection from a lap-dancer at a strip club. What is offered is the easy idea that we must indulge ourselves more in the shops, real estate offices and car dealerships across this great land: if we cannot- or are unwilling to do so ourselves then the government must do so in our place.

Then what?

Easiness is the natural outgrowth of the academic process and fake moral supremacy that accompanies it. Ideas are diverted from the conventional main stream by company-appointed ‘geniuses’ and shills into media tributaries without any critical effort being made to understand what the ideas really mean or whether they are germane.

What escapes Mr. Spend’s analysis is the entirety of the enterprise that contains spending; the chain of which government spending is but one modest link. He ignores what has been spent already. He offers little understanding why there is so little current spending and demand in the first place. He blithely assumes for all of us that our current conditions are identical to those in America in 1932 when they are not. Dr. Spend claims to speak in the mind of John Maynard Keynes, yet it is hard to imagine the witty and insightful Keynes ignoring fundamental differences between our current state of affairs and that of the past. All finance crises are unique. In the intervening 80 years we have made ourselves over as industrialized beings, our food, shelter and clothes are industrial products, our entire way of living requires concentrated, complex trans-national structures that are all credit- and petroleum fuel dependencies. It is this centralized industrial system itself that has failed, not the willingness of individuals and entities to engage it.

Keynes would recognize the overall failure at once, Mr. Spend is still looking.

As it is, understanding the grand failure and its implication is hard on all levels. After the understanding comes the policy changes at all levels that are much harder and more expensive. By offering helpings of easy as a solution, Mr. Spend strands himself.

How hard? Our world must live within its resource means. No person alive has ever done so, no modern country has never done so. In America, citizens must borrow to survive: to eat, to put clothes on their backs. Millions of Americans are incapable of borrowing because lenders refuse or borrowers are unwilling- or unable to take on more debts. We cannot pay our own way as individuals or earn out of our own efforts, we cannot live within the ‘solar energy budget’ because we don’t know how. Industrial development as an economic force emerged in the 16th century, it quickly cannibalized competing pre-industrial regimes. Nobody can remember back that far: living within our means is a lost art like plastering.

Mr. Spend reaches far beyond what is needed to survive, to revive the entire waste-based enterprise as if such a thing is possible. America and the rest of the world does not have a shortage of goods. Instead, there is a shortage of the resources necessary for these goods to function including credit needed to purchase them. Rather than analyzing why finance refuses to lend, Mr. Spend simply paints lenders and their servants as demons and demands that government substitute its credit in finance’s place. Here is spending in the face of entropy: the increase of goods amplifies the demand for resources, the cost of the resources is greater than what the goods themselves are worth. More spending is counterproductive.

Here is the easy side of easy:

 

 

Amory Lovins tells us how painlessly we can shift from the current stumbling energy-waste infrastructure to a new version that presumably stops wasting altogether. Just make some carbon-fiber cars and let slip the dogs of efficiency!

Otherwise, there is no point to making the shift, right?

Lovins use all the hip buzzphrases. He’s like a character in a Scott Adams ‘Dilbert’ cartoon: “deeply disruptive business opportunities”, “congested business logic”, “competitive advantage”, “integrated innovation” and plain old garden-variety “innovation”. Certainly his listening audience of tech wannabes are deeply impressed by the ease with which Mr. Lovins dispatches our current energy catastrophe. Why not? The kids are looking for some linked innovations to turn into stock market fortunes for themselves.

Meanwhile, outside of TED-ville, the current energy/resource waste paradigm is currently annihilating Spain and whatever competitive advantage its hapless citizens might possess. For an IPO to somewhat- succeed in 2012, an entire nation must die.

None of the easy solutions and easy analysis are offered with real-world evidence of anything other than trivial diminished marginal expenses for some big businesses. Lovins’ adjustments at the edges of our colossal enterprise cannot do anything more than add to resource demand, he is another version of Mr. Spend.

Easy analysis uses the easy ideas forms ready-made ‘hope’ and ‘optimism’ that are commodities that can be handed out like life preservers on the boat deck of the Titanic.

Lovins’ easy analysis finds fertile soil:

 

The Energy Revolution on Our Doorstep

By The Mad Hedge Fund Trader

A major plank in my golden age scenario for the 2020’s is the collapse of the cost of energy. This won’t occur because of a single big discovery, but from a 1,000 small ones that aggregate together to create a leveraged effect. The upshot is that we may be free of OPEC in 3-5 years, and completely energy independent not long after that. The impact on financial markets and global standards of living will be huge.

To flesh out my arguments, I called Dr. Amory B. Lovins, chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who spends a lot of time thinking about these things. He says that our current energy addiction makes us dig up about four cubic miles of primordial swamp goo to burn each year. That costs the US about $2 billion a day, and another $4 billion a day when the cost of defending unstable supplies in the Middle East is thrown in.

Some 75% of the electricity generated powers buildings, three fourths of the oil fuels transportation, and the rest goes to industry. Demand for Texas tea is already falling dramatically. Since 1975, the amount of oil needed to produce a dollar of GDP has plunged a stunning 60%. Coal production peaked in 2005 and has since lost 25% of the market for power utilities, mostly to natural gas. “Peak oil” is becoming a reality, not in supply terms, but in demand.

This is only the beginning of a major long term trend that still has decades to run. Obama’s move to raise mileage on US made cars from 25 to 55 miles per gallon by 2025 will have a crucial impact. While in the past Detroit lawyered up and fought such policies tooth and nail, now it is reengineering to achieve this ambitious goal. GM says it will offer a hydrogen fuel cell powered subcompact in five years for $35,000. Some two thirds of fuel consumption is caused by weight, so the adoption of cheap ultra-strong carbon fiber composite technology from the aircraft industry, which offers five times the strength of steel at a tenth of the weight, will give them a major advantage. BMW, Volkswagen, and Audi all plan to bring such vehicles to the market in 2013.

 

It is simply assumed as a condition that humans will always own and operate cars … just as they are assumed to breathe. BMW, Volkswagen and Audi will bring advanced lightweight vehicles to the market: who will bring customers to these firms with money? It is assumed that somehow the buildings, generating stations and hydrogen-powered GM cars will pay for themselves by way of their use, something their non-tech cousins are unable to do. Finance has stopped lending because nobody/nothing can repay anything: we’re all Greeks now.

Here is another thought-leader, leisure and entertainment promoter Peter Diamandis:

 

 

Diamandis wants to go into space. We’re already there! Diamandis’ theme is more easy borrowing and gigantic public spending subsidies. Here is the march of the thought leaders straight out the air lock, over the edge of the cliff:

 

 

Diamandis is the insane Dr. Mercer with a killer app. Mercer’s ‘inevitable’ is a golem that is too big- or too dumb to fail even when cut to pieces, like Citigroup or wish-think supply side economics. What does Diamandis’ hand-held supercomputer/cell phone promise for the future? You really don’t want to know: cell phone battles in the streets with zero-point disintegration rays over a few moldy packages of Velveeta cheese.

Electronic Arts gives us a slimmed-down version of cannibal capitalism in six-point four nine minutes! Go to the e-store and spend ‘credits’ then battle as long as your ‘lives’ and health-care-in-a-can hold out. As in our flesh-and-blood world, success is an evanescent concept: a product without substance, numbers on a screen expanding exponentially according to Moore’s Law. Meanwhile, death is a gory certitude: it lurks behind/within every automatic door, ready to spring out of every hand-held supercomputer cell phone with a zero-point disintegration ray.

Of course, Diamandis and the rest of the Spend clones cannot help themselves. They are pop art characters, big-business versions of Joe Dallesandro. All of them are hapless shills in the technology Ponzi scheme. They put on the ‘entrepreneur’ makeup and read off the script. The process encourages the funds to flow toward the industries that make up the pyramid and thence into the pockets of the real entrepreneurs.

Warhol still makes the rules: pop-politics has repainted the thieves’ trade of amassing fortunes into a civic virtue: entrepreneurs borrow their fortunes, the resulting debts are paid by others. Pop-economics insists the racketeering is the creative equivalent of the work of our Renaissance betters. What the pop art itself illuminates by way of its own content is a collective future as a nightmarish, long-night’s pilgrimage through some cosmic digestive tract into the toilet. Most of us aren’t going to make it. Here is Gregor again with Paul Gilding:

 

Gilding’s view is that we’ve reached a relationship between global population and available natural resources, that makes it inevitable that the economy—a converter of natural resources into goods—will sharply slow down, if it has not started to slow down already. Gilding can be thought of not as a neo-Malthusian, or a doomer, but rather as an ecological economist. (As most readers know, I share this same view.) Gilding looks at trailing historical growth rates — again, the rate at which natural resources are converted to industrial and population growth — and concludes that the future size of the economy at these growth rates would create a machine that the earth simply cannot sustain. Again, I agree.

 

Here is where we run aground and stay there. We tell ourselves that, “the economy — a converter of natural resources into goods — “. We convince ourselves that we have something(s) to lose, that the pink slime excreted from our factories represents value. The more this is demonstrated to be false the harder we try to prove the lie with the help of our technology.

Meanwhile, the soothing avatars of consumer technology assure us that the future will fend quite nicely with carbon-fiber fenders and trunk lids. Thought leaders tell us to go back to sleep. They are quick to reassure us that there are low-cost exits from our closing circle of self-assembled monsters. EA tells us we can scrounge up ammunition to reach the end of the next corridor provided we are lucky enough to find it and can survive long enough. We yearn to believe the TED people but must ignore their ‘goods’ have gotten us into our fine mess in the first place.

Solutions are more of the same old problem with new coats of paint. We don’t need smarter phones because we have nothing to say. On the way to phone heaven, anything faintly resembling meaning has been strip-mined for some quick profit to another tycoon … along with everything else that might actually have value at some sort of basic, human level. TED tells us without mouthing the words we need more tycoons, and that tycoons-in-waiting are available at the TED when the time comes to hire them.

We refuse to accept that wealth is the problem rather than the solution. We want wealth for ourselves, the chance of wealth for another lucky winner being another industrial ‘good’ that can be sold at the e-store. Wealth by way of clever thievery is no different from wealth by not-so-clever thievery. TED insists the cleverness matters, that the thievery is a condition. In doing so the thought leaders offer nothing more than Mr. Spend bouncing off the walls within an abandoned space ship.

23 thoughts on “March of the Thought Leaders …

  1. dolph

    You once wrote about the “March of the metal men.”

    The thing about the metal men, is that we are placing a big bet, a big short, against the “thought leaders.”

    And no, we aren’t in it for charity. Why should we be? What possible charity could exist in an overcrowded, depleted world of 7 billion people?

    Which is why we’ll be denounced as the “bad guys” but by that point we won’t care, anymore than the industrialists of the past cared that they were.

  2. Sacro

    You should condense your posts in particular and your ideas in general into a book. This format restrains you, I think. I would say more than congratulations for your writing, but the english language doesn´t obey me too much.
    Cheers from the thirld world.

  3. Mr. Roboto

    While I tend to agree with Krugman politically, I really do get exasperated with how willfully peak-oil ignorant he remains.

  4. RobM

    Is debt completely a consequence of industrial civilization’s inability to generate sufficient returns for investment capital? Or is debt also caused by us voting for people who promise us more stuff? Could a frugal modern society ever be debt free?

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Is debt completely a consequence of industrial civilization’s inability to generate sufficient returns for investment capital?

      Industry starts off with ‘original sin’ of debt. Industry must borrow to exist. It can be said that the industry, once it begins production, can retire its start up debt by returns from sales. But the sales are actually the customers borrowing rather than the firm … or the firm borrowing against customer accounts.

      This can be restated: companies can borrow on their own accounts; they can borrow against their customers’ accounts, they can borrow against the account of the public-as-a-whole (in the form of government credit/currency) and they can borrow against overseas accounts (by way of foreign exchange).

      Companies are created specifically so that they can gain (borrowed) financing, much of which is simply diverted into the pockets of the company owners: think ‘Zynga’ IPO. This is ‘industry for its own sake’ and is non-productive.

      Or is debt also caused by us voting for people who promise us more stuff?

      The debt economy is simply a set of rules. We (consumers) want stuff, industry gives us the stuff: production and consumption are ‘managed’ by the rules. Since everyone tacitly accepts the same rules, the process amounts to a kind of self-regulation. ‘The’ debt is an account of how much we’ve overspent for the goods we would gain one way or the other. (It is also an inverse measure of wealth.)

      This is the argument against Marxism: centralized management does not allow the kind of popular overspending as does self-regulation. In the place of of hot-rods, hamburgers and split-levels, there is aggressive Soviet-style militarism and the accompanying social regimentation.

      Right now, the economic system that can restrain overspending/over-consumption does not exist (sorry gold people). Debt by itself has never been an obstacle to overspending, (otherwise wars could not be prosecuted particularly the 100 year variety). What restrains is blind adherence to rules in the service of (false) hope of better times. The only economic restraint that debt offers is that industries must borrow from accounts other than their own: deadbeats cannot be funded.

      Input shortages causes industries to disappear. Debt-capital stands in for inputs (Daly). Input shortage is the problem in the EU right now. Every day the Europeans have to borrow a billion-and-a-half euros to burn up for nothing. Next will be the borrowing of two billions, then three. It’s all unaffordable waste.

      Getting rid of yesterdays’ debts is no panacea: new debts at the same level as before that must be taken on tomorrow. Without the debt and the Europeans must invade and conquer Saudi Arabia Libya and steal the oil they need :)

      Bankrupting EU debt rules allows the US to steal oil from the Europeans without having to invade, they simply turn loose the Troika robots and Goldman-Sachs.

      Could a frugal modern society ever be debt free?

      My personal feeling is that a debt system can allow society to fund things OTHER THAN ‘industry for its own sake’. We can pay women not to have children, for instance, or to conserve rather than consume. Both of these ‘enterprises’ would return value over time unlike ordinary consumption industry which destroys value.

      Right now, debt is used to finance the wrong things because debt has been monopolized by thieves (with nice suits and PR).

      1. Ellen Anderson

        Neat explanation. So all economic activity involves the expectation of future benefits, right? Then the question is what the future should have to give back. Expecting too much is usury? Decentralized decision making does better than centralized? I think I agree so long as there are ground rules that recognize common goods and values. That’s the rub though.

      2. steve from virginia Post author

        Industrialization/’progress’ are sales-pitches.

        The Catholics’ doctrine promised heaven (or hell) ‘tomorrow’. Big business makes the same inscrutable promise. Because we swallowed Papist bilge for two thousand years the industrialists know the false promises work.

        Bilge of the moment sez we must consume/waste now so that we won’t have to waste/consume in the future. We will all get rich enough by wasting to afford not to waste when the happy day of universal wealth arrives. This is the constant and unchanging lie, sold over and over to the hopelessly gullible, the faulty foundation of so-called market economies (and non-market economies which make the same sorts of promises).

        The antidote is honesty. We must have accurate accounting of both costs and benefits. We started off fooling ourselves and now it ends badly.

      3. Ellen Anderson

        Those who benefit from the status quo (which is most of us in the US) don’t dare to let the deal go down. Better the devil you know – provided he has been good to you. But, as they say, you must bring a long spoon.

      4. IndifferentSpectator

        Hello Steve, I stumbled on here somehow (started with “peak oil” on wikipedia). The sum total of all my intuitions and exasperation, formed over the past five years, has been expressed quite eloquently and passionately by you (and a few others in the comments section).

        And yet, even though I silently and gently nod my head in somber agreement, I cannot help but feel a sense of resignation. There was a time when I used to be as passionate as you, finding glimpses of confirmation of my intuition here and there. But now, there is only silent resignation.

        The problem is inherent to human nature. Our ingenuity is only paralleled by our short-sightedness which makes us complacently greedy and greedily complacent. We are really not any better than that. To think that you or me would desire our species to be any better, is to adopt self-righteousness and not recognize that we, like all plants and animals have our flaws and just like every other form of life and matter, we too are transient. All good things must come to an end!

        That said, good writing, but I would request you to not emotionally invest so much on such issues. Instead, revisit such issues from time to time, but subdue yourself to ignorance on most times, and let nature take its course.

  5. James

    With regards to debt, credit and production, there won’t be a next generation, a second go around. This metabolic fire is self-extinguishing and self-poisoning. The limbic mind, which is predominant, will resist any prefrontal assemblage of reality that interferes with its base motivations. The lowly motivations will be unexamined and beyond control. Watch the CNBC goons and their minions salivating over their next earthly conquest on the road to complete annihilation. They’re not even conscious, just a puppet body operating on evolved algorithms beyond their circumspection. Come and get it doggy, doggy.

  6. rcg1950

    It was always my opinion (perhaps not a very well informed one) that Warhol recognized his ‘work’ for what it was — i.e. a simulacrum of art made expressly to con the insecure snobs of the art world (a vocation shared by the later Picasso and others as well?) . My understanding was that he never drank his own Kool Aid. Though Lovins and his ilk are glib and slimy — I can’t imagine buying a used car from him — I always get the impression that to some extent they believe their own horse sh-t. And Krugman is Mr. Earnestness himself. As for Diamandis — ‘when I hear the word “amygdala ” I want to reach for my revolver.’ (apologies to goebbels) So while these characters may match Warhol in their ability to make a buck off of interestingly packaged dreck, they just can’t approach Warhol’s true greatness — his genius for cynicism.

    1. Ellen Anderson

      You are right on! Many of his friends were themselves insecure snobs. They hated themselves in addition the whole academic art world.

  7. steve from virginia Post author

    There isn’t much new taking place in Japan or Fukushima. The other sites that cover the reactors recycle the same articles over and over.

    The once-comprehensive data stream from Tepco has shrunk to a trickle.

    A lot of what is offered as ‘commentary’ is hysteria with no factual basis. This is the logical outgrowth of an absence of transparency and a concrete management plan on the part ofTepco/Japgov. Presumably, hysteria is the intent. The word for the ‘now’ is destabilize. The idea is to push off-balance, to cause distress and uncertainty … think ‘War on Terror’.

    As for what might happen over there: nothing has really changed: the reactors might blow up tomorrow and eject 5,000 tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Another day = Tepco doesn’t know what to do. The day after = Tepco still doesn’t know what to do.

    Keep in mind, there is the possibility of another surge of contamination from Chernobyl #4 which has an active, un-contained — and very large — nuclear core. Ukraine is broke, so are the Europeans who are supposed to be ‘helping’ the Ukrainians. Most of the scientists who were involved with recovery post-explosion have died. Russia is straitened. The USA is broke … it’s a big mess.

    Interesting article, JB. Egypt looks to become the next battleground between Shiite (Iran, Muslim Brotherhood) and Sunni (Saudia, USA and Egyptian establishment). May the best devil win. The question unasked is, what happens when crude prices fall and subsidies from Iran and Saudia are unavailable?

    I’d buy a house on the beach @ Malibu, but it has to be less than $100k.
     
    :)

  8. The Dork of Cork

    Energy Imports as a % of total imports Y2011

    Germany : 13.4 % (BUBA March monthly report)
    Ireland : 14.07%

    Not that much different really(although most of our imports in the chemical areas inhabit a different universe really)
    But lets look at the oil demand component of the energy thingy (by far the largest in euro terms)
    German Diesel demand in particular is holding up – a sign of intensive commercial activity and perhaps private car fuel switchover
    omrpublic.iea.org/demand/ge_dl_ov.pdf

    Then look at Irish demand….despite many more diseal private car purchases.

    omrpublic.iea.org/demand/ir_dl_ov.pdf

    If we look at total oil demand – German oil rations have also decreased substantially with oil heating , Jet Kerosene and gasoline demand destruction dragging the figures down.

    12 month moving averages vs Y/Y growth

    omrpublic.iea.org/demand/ge_tp_dg.pdf

    But if you look at the Irish thingy it looks a bit different

    omrpublic.iea.org/demand/ir_tp_dg.pdf

    Germany is borrowing off our accounts.
    Meanwhile its car exports increased as a % of total exports.( to Asia and others)
    Y2010 :16.6 %
    Y2011 : 17.6 %

    This is a Industrial dead end , its can continue to export to Asia (as they get the oil ration we give up ) because of its low cost of capital as a result of general European Austerity.

    Now this ESM or European IMF maybe a mechanism to increase European power but at what cost ?
    Have they something up their sleeve or what ?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uX2cS8wvQHI

    This Industrial strategy at least on the surface seems to be destroying general European wealth.
    Maybe theres something in this desiccated Regolith of ideas but I doubt it somehow.

    Its good fun anyhow , at least when you play around with artistic / scientific license.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNDaOFQ6g2I

    “We come in Peace”

  9. Ken Barrows

    I wish the thought leaders, the believers in progress, would define their terms, at least. What is “growth?” Can it be independent of debt? Is GDP an appropriate measurement? The term is kind of like “socialism” or “liberal.”

  10. Pingback: Discussões a sério, sobre a realidade, a partir de factos, e não a cusquice partidocrata que em Portugal passa por comentário político. « Achaques e Remoques

Comments are closed.